coal moneyAmong the highlights of last fall’s G20 summit in Pittsburgh was a joint pledge to phase out wasteful fossil-fuel subsidies (which amount to a dizzying $550 billion worldwide). Now ClimateWire reports that change may not come as fast as greens would like:

President Obama and other heads of state are poised to water down a commitment to phase out oil and gas subsidies, a draft declaration obtained by ClimateWire shows.

The new communiqué indicates that eliminating the estimated $250 billion to $500 billion countries pay to make fossil fuels cheaper to buy and produce will now be “voluntary” and “member specific.”

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Environmental activists with Greenpeace, which leaked the June 11 draft [PDF], argued the changes amount to gutting a promise that was once hailed as a major step in reducing global warming pollution and raising money to help vulnerable countries build low-carbon economies.

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“Last year, there was ambiguity around timetables; it was unclear who was going to do what by when — but they did all say they’re going to phase it out. Now they’re going to say — they’ll do it when they feel like it, and everyone can interpret it differently,” said Steve Kretzmann, director of Oil Change International.

Here’s what the leaked doc [PDF] says:

We reviewed progress made to date in identifying inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption and we agree to continue working to develop voluntary, member-specific approaches for the rationalization and phase out of such measures.

“Agree to continue working” doesn’t exactly ring with the fierce urgency of now. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers say the administration has already laid out its plan to cut U.S. subsidies. A Treasury Department spokeswoman explains more to ClimateWire:

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She referred to a statement the agency issued earlier in the week noting that Obama has proposed repeals of several tax preferences in his fiscal 2011 budget and is working with Congress to include a fossil-fuel phase-out package as part of Senate energy legislation.

“Rationalizing and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is one of the most important actions we and others can take to enhance energy efficiency in our economies, promote energy security and assist in the fight against climate change,” Treasury said in a statement. [Emphasis mine]

Kudos to Greenpeace for releasing the leak in hopes of giving this issue some much-deserved attention. It’s hard to imagine a more opportune time for President Obama to address subsidies — taxpayer giveaways to oil, coal, and gas companies — than the summer of the BP gusher. Why not make the issue a centerpiece of this weekend’s summit?